A New York University study last year found that 70 percent of college students are stressed because of finances. Another study, this one from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at UCLA, found that college freshmen are reporting the lowest levels of emotional well-being since the study started in 1985.
As the semester keeps ramping up, students are finding themselves more stressed every day, and they are looking for a way to manage. Some students have turned to yoga.
“I’ve always read about the health benefits of yoga, how they tell people when they’re stressed out they should do yoga,” broadcasting major Clo Hidalgo said. “They even recommend it on cancer patients because it just brings you so much Zen and stuff like that. I was like, it’s going to be my senior year, I feel like I’m getting out of shape, and I’m going to be super stressed. I don’t want to rely on other things such as alcohol or smoking. I want to do something that’s more natural that’s beneficial to my body.”
Hidalgo finds herself in the middle of her senior project, quite possibly the most stressful time in a University of La Verne student’s undergraduate career. For her, yoga has been a coping strategy.
“My body just felt so great,” Hidalgo said. “It felt so relaxed and everything. I felt my body being different, it didn’t feel so tense anymore. It felt very light, kind of like a feather.”
It is not uncommon to prejudge yoga before trying it out. In fact, that is exactly what Hidalgo did.
“I thought it was going to be all these weird poses thrown at you all at once like in the movies where they make you put your leg behind your back or whatever,” she said.
There are types of yoga out there that really emphasize flexibility and athleticism, but not all of them do.
Yoga always goes back to one simple principle.
“In the ancient language of Sanskrit in India, yoga just refers to this idea of union or connection. So this idea that we’re re-connecting our mind, body, and spirit with the present moment,” said university chaplain Zandra Wagoner, who practices yoga often and who plans on spending this summer training to be an instructor.
Just like every style of yoga is slightly different, so are the styles of teaching it.
Gloria Saller teaches yoga at the University of La Verne. Saller focuses less on the athletic side and more on breathing.
“We hold our breath throughout the day and that’s when we cut the oxygen to our brain,” Saller said.
But why exactly is yoga such a good stress-buster?
“It’s very hard for us to just be living in the present moment,” she said. “And there’s something about doing these poses and doing them well and right, in ways that don’t hurt your body, that not only increases your flexibility, but it causes you to focus, which means your mind slows down and you’re just there in the present, in that moment.”
Johnna Medina is a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas in Austin who has done some studies on yoga and its effects on substance abuse.
“What we find in exercise studies is that when people do it, at least to the public health recommendation of exercise, which is like 150 minutes a week of at least moderate intensity, it could be as effective as an anti-depressant for anxiety and depressant, so that’s pretty powerful,” she said. “But then what we find is there’s a little bit more long term gain, but similar to fitness, if you stop, you can’t really expect the gains to be as helpful.”
Her hypothesis says that yoga helps with stress because it helps regulate a hormone in the brain called cortisol. If the brain has levels of cortisol that are too high or too low, exercises like yoga help bring the level back to a healthy amount.
“I think a good way to think of it is also heart rate,” Medina said. “You know how when you exercise and do yoga you’re going to raise your heart? It’s a stressor, exercise is a physical stressor. You raise your heart rate during exercise, but what does that do over time to your resting heart rate? It gets you fit.”
Whether it is a student in college, or a middle-aged working professional, yoga has become a standard way of dealing with stress. If you are stressing, it probably would not hurt to start stretching.
Des Delgadillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.